Alarming Surge in Antipsychotic Prescriptions for Australian Children and Adolescents Raises Concerns

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In a startling revelation, a recent article in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry Advances uncovers a concerning surge in antipsychotic prescriptions for children and adolescents in Australian primary care services.

The research, led by Julie Klau from the University of Adelaide, sheds light on the period between 2011 and 2017, indicating a notable increase in these prescriptions, particularly for off-label conditions.

Increase In Antipsychotic Prescriptions – A Disturbing Trend

The study emphasizes that a substantial number of antipsychotic prescriptions issued by general practitioners were for off-label complaints, implying that these powerful drugs were frequently administered to children without sufficient evidence of their efficacy for specific symptoms.

Moreover, it highlights a troubling practice where most recipients of antipsychotics were simultaneously prescribed other psychotropic drugs.

The authors express their concern, stating:

“Prescribing antipsychotics for mental health diagnoses to children/adolescents attending Australian general practices was more frequent in 2017 than in 2011 and most commonly associated with depression/anxiety diagnoses.

In both years, most prescribing was off‐label. The majority of patients were co‐prescribed other classes of psychotropics along with antipsychotics.”

Research Methodology

To investigate antipsychotic prescription practices, the researchers utilized electronic healthcare records from MedicineInsight, a comprehensive healthcare and demographic information database established in 2011.

The study compared data from 2011 and 2017, involving 402 general practices and a substantial number of children and adolescents.

To be included, practices needed two years of continuous data with minimal interruptions, and service users had to be “regular patients,” visiting the same practice at least three times within two years. The data encompassed 168,009 children and adolescents in 2011 and 301,643 in 2017.

The Alarming Numbers

The findings reveal a significant uptick in mental health diagnoses and subsequent antipsychotic prescriptions. In 2011, 4.2% of children and adolescents received a mental health diagnosis, compared to 6.7% in 2017. The corresponding antipsychotic prescriptions increased from 2.2% to 3.2%.

Males and individuals from less advantaged neighborhoods were more likely to receive antipsychotic prescriptions. Notably, diagnoses such as bipolar disorder, autism without behavioral problems, and eating disorders saw a substantial rise in antipsychotic prescriptions.

Off-Label Practices and Concerns

Off-label prescribing of antipsychotics, which involves prescribing them for conditions not officially approved, dominated both 2017 (79.7%) and 2011 (69.8%). The authors stress that off-label prescribing was more common for females in 2017.

Additionally, co-prescribing was prevalent, with 69% of recipients prescribed other psychotropics on the same day, with antidepressants and ADHD medications being the most common.

Expert Commentary and Cautionary Notes

The authors acknowledge limitations in the study, including potential underreporting and the exclusion of specialist diagnoses.

They conclude by expressing concerns about inadequate training and mentoring for general practitioners, potentially contributing to the observed surge in off-label prescriptions.

Implications and Future Considerations

Antipsychotics, known for their potential long-term effects and associated risks, are raising serious questions about the well-being of young service users. Despite previous warnings about the dangers of administering these drugs to children, the rise in prescriptions is alarming.

Experts caution that these medications may lead to adverse outcomes, including brain atrophy, increased diabetes risk, and higher mortality rates.

As Australia grapples with this concerning trend, it becomes imperative to reevaluate prescription practices and prioritize the well-being of the younger population.

The study underscores the need for enhanced training and referral pathways for general practitioners, emphasizing the importance of cautious prescribing practices to safeguard the mental and physical health of children and adolescents.


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